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Kayo Dot - Dousing Anemone with Copper Tongue

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Artist: Kayo Dot

Album: Dousing Anemone with Copper Tongue

Label: Robotic Empire

Review date: Mar. 5, 2006

The era of the genre-hopping metal band is behind us, and this is a good thing.

We're not going to name names here, but surely you know the style. Mr. Bungle were originators- and innovators-apparent (themselves having borrowed an idea or three from the jump-cut style of composer John Zorn's Naked City). Then other, less-tasteful dudes took note, and clamored to blend all varieties of funk, jazz, blues, reggae, or ska with a metal base, the net result of which often smacked of low novelty. This was to continue to the tune of dwindling accolade from critics who'd "heard it all before,” and fewer and fewer points for originality until the the trend degenerated into the last refuge of the joke band.

Outside of this tradition, and thankfully much more rooted in the realm of sensible prog-rock, is the musically multilingual Kayo Dot. Evidently the main vehicle of Toby Driver, the leader and quite capable composer/guitarist/vocalist, the eightsome draws from a wide lexicon of influences - incorporating not all of them within the same song, and not necessarily using metal as their sole compositional springboard.

Which is not to say that the tunes remain rooted, aesthetically, where they start. But the stylistic changes that do occur throughout the five songs on Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue are not of that Zornian quick-change variety. Rather, Driver seems at pains to ensure that his music ebbs and flows subtly in a calculated and gradual fashion, like chamber music.

Dousing Anemone with Copper Tongue is the band's second album under the name Kayo Dot (before their Tzadik debut, they were known as Maudlin of the Well) and their first for the Robotic Empire label, best known for its current roster of metalcore, grindcore and late-’90s proto-screamo bands. True to that legacy of heaviosity, the first track lays on the downer bombast thick. Sustained winds, strings and subdued, serpentine lines of guitar, bass and piano lend a nearly amorphous, ambient backdrop to Driver's progressively desperate vocals before it all crescendos into a series of pounding, atonal non-riffs (in the sense that a "riff" suggests some discernably repeated figure, which this does not). Had Voivod taken their claims of Van Der Graaf Generator's influence far past the hilt, it may have sounded something like this. The follow-up track, "Immortelle and Paper Caravelle,” gives the listener a chance to decompress. Here, Driver tones the vocal terror down to a more expressive Jeff Buckley or (VDGG's) Peter Hammill level. Leading into the song's interlude and subsequent denouement is one curious surprise that sets Kayo Dot apart from the rest of the orchestral/chamber rock pack: A tranquil, chiming guitar melody, prickly pizzicato strings and grumbling bass vile that recall Olivier Messaien's liturgically influenced compositions. The metal surfaces once again near the end of the album, closing out the 13-minute "_____ On Limpid Form.” This time, it's in the form of a rhythmically-lopsided crash-and-drone guitar riff that sounds like it was recorded in a galvanized wind tunnel, while the rest of the band pounded the sides of said tunnel, Neubauten-style.

Kayo Dot's lyrics, incidentally, read like Baudelaire as interpreted by a Society for Creative Anachronism-type. Lines like "I feel strong, this day will never wither! / In sorcery is my most ancient thought / and I thought sorcery was right" and "I feel weak, this night will never bloom! / I am I / Now you're mine, my cunting child" suggest some kind of greater, arcane narrative at work, but they've got this reviewer stumped.

With all of the band's strengths, their polyglotism doesn't always go off without a hitch. Take the bop-ish trumpet solo in "Aura on an Asylum Wall,” which sounds strangely incongruent with the rest of the band's too-stiff-for-jazz comping. Of course, maybe keeping the listener in a sustained squirm is exactly their point. If you like your prog dark and your subject matter obtuse, Kayo Dot’s your band.

By Adam MacGregor

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